Goal setting doesn’t need to be at the start of the year. However, the turn of a new year does give you a defined and specific timeframe to help force the subject. SMART objective setting is probably the best known goal methodology. However, there are other options if SMART doesn’t quite work for you. In this article, I’ll explore 2 alternatives to smart goal setting. Plus, you can put these into action straight away.

What are SMART goals?

A SMART goal is a particular way of setting and defining your goals. It guides you through certain elements that you should consider when setting your goals and objectives. Actually, SMART is an acronym, standing for:

  • Specific
  • Measureable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timebound

A SMART goal or SMART objective is one that meets all of these criteria. You can read more about SMART goals or SMART objective setting.

Finding an alternative to SMART goals

But, SMART goals don’t work for everyone. Some people get confused about the differences between Achievable and Realistic. Others find that it’s still easy to forget all about your goals (until your end of year review that is!). Meanwhile, other people can find that the structure of SMART goals prevents them from thinking big. They can also be perceived as boring, particularly for those that are less data focused and less interested in the “Measurable” element. Also, SMART goals can become old and out of date, particularly if they are set for a whole year in a fast moving situation.

However, there are alternatives to SMART goals though that help to overcome these challenges.

But I’d still recommend that you continue to use a structure to help you define your goals. The purpose of SMART goal setting is to help make your goals more defined. This is critical still.

For example, let’s say that your goal is “grow sales”. Firstly, it’s good that you have a goal. But, you’re also missing a huge opportunity. It’s not very interesting or aspirational. Technically, speaking, there is no detail. So if you grow sales by 1 penny or 1 cent on 1 random day – then congratulations, you’ve met your objective. Whilst that is great, my guess is that it’s not really what you set out to achieve right?

You need to add details to help define your goals better. Using the SMART methodology is one way. However, here are 2 alternatives to SMART goal setting.

CLEAR objectives

This is a goal setting method defined by Adam Kreek. Originally a rower, Kreek is an Olympic Gold medallist. So he know’s a thing or two about driving towards an objective or goal. In fact, he openly admits that he has effectively used SMART goals.

However, Kreek states:

“The SMART goal method doesn’t account for, nor capitalize on, the innate emotional and collaborative nature of big projects. Nor does this method allow you to adjust when the expected outcomes change.”

So he developed the CLEAR goal methodology as a way to set and deliver goals in organisations.


Your goals should be collaborative. In the modern workplace, your goals must encourage employees to work together. Your goals should be reflective that you are unlikely to achieve anything completely by yourself. Instead you must collaborate for success. You must work with other people, both in your team and outside your team.


This is takes certain elements that your SMART goals would set. Essentially, it defines a scope for your goals. Blending the “Specific” and “Achievable” elements of SMART goals with the “Timebound” element.


I really like this point. Basically, this point is aiming to align your goals with your personal passions. In turn, you should be more motivated to achieve and deliver your objectives. You should feel a burst of energy now and hopefully this will make people more determined to deliver their goals.

This should help to overcome one of the challenges of SMART goals. No longer should your goals be lifeless and will help to stop them being forgotten about.


This point is about ensuring large goals are broken down into smaller goals. This is to help you deliver your goals faster by making them more approachable. Essentially, the idea here is to focus on baby steps. Soon, those baby steps add up and you’ll have achieved a huge amount.

Personally, it feels like the word doesn’t quite fit the meaning here. Perhaps it’s a nice word that fits into the acronym easily. Perhaps it would be better to use the term “Approachable”. You decide. However, the point stands that you should be able to get into your goals easily. You should be able to deliver more and achieve more.


Finally, you should set goals with a big objective. However, as you learn more and time moves on, you give yourself permission to refine and modify your goals. Use new information to adjust what you aim to do. This is building an agile mindset into your goal setting.


FAST goals

The next alternative to SMART goals is from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They introduce a FAST goal setting approach. The Sloan Review from MIT state that:

“SMART goals undervalue ambition, focus narrowly on individual performance, and ignore the importance of discussing goals throughout the year”.

Frequently discussed

Essentially, your goals should be regularly at the front of your mind. They should be continually discussed and focussed on. This helps to avoid that situation where you dust off those objectives that you’ve not looked at for 11 months. (We’ve all been there haven’t we?)

By discussing your goals frequently, you get more guidance and steering through to a successful conclusion. Plus, it helps to keep you focused on the strategic intent that was originally in place.


Your objectives should be difficult but not impossible. Just like SMART goals, they must still be “Achievable”. But also, not so easy that they just happen. These sort of goals are more just a part of your job description. Easy to achieve goals will not inspire you to achieve more.

Ambitious goals ask more from people. In turn, you may just be surprised at what you are able to achieve. They make you determined. They encourage you to think of new ways of approaching problems.


Like the SMART goals, FAST requires you to set goals which are detailed. This clarity allows you to get after it. Plus, it helps you to verify that you’ve completed your goal or not at the end of the time.

With greater clarity by being specific, there is less chance of missed expectations. People are clearer on what will be achieved and what will not.


Your goals and objectives should be visible to others. This sounds daunting to many at first.

I remember when I first shared my personal objectives with my team. I was slightly unsure. In fact, I’d never had a manager share their objectives with me. But I wanted to promote more openness and team work, in turn to build a high performing team.

So I went ahead and shared exactly what my aims and objectives were. What I needed to focus on more and how I saw relative priorities. The whole team were surprised. Never had a boss shared something like this with them so openly. But what happened then? Well, I saw greater commitment. Greater teamwork. Plus, the entire team understood how their goals and objectives feed into the bigger picture.

By being transparent, you naturally allow other people to hold you accountable. This leads to greater focus and ultimately, greater success. People understand how their goals relate, and are different to, other people in the team, the department and the business. In addition, sharing your goals allows other people to help you with them, building greater collaboration.

The bottom line – set goals to inspire you to achieve more

Whether SMART goals work for you, it’s essential to use a goal setting methodology or approach. Whether you use SMART or CLEAR or FAST, you must define your goals. Don’t fall into that vague “grow sales” example that we looked at earlier on. Be intentional with what you want to achieve. Don’t leave it to chance but set goals and objectives to inspire and drive you.

Comment below: what do you think? Do SMART goals work for you? Will you be trying to set CLEAR or FAST goals? Or, do you use another method entirely? I’d love to hear from you.

project management expert Oliver BanksAbout the Author

Oliver Banks is an expert project and programme manager. Originally, he managed projects in the technology industry before shifting to deliver retail improvement and transformation. Now, he is an independent consultant and project management trainer. He’s passionate about helping retailers to deliver projects to improve stores, distribution and head office operations. In addition, he’s also focused on helping project managers to deliver change and improvement projects.


project management expert Oliver Banks

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